Fans of a certain age will celebrate the return of Great Britain in 2019. But spare a thought for one of rugby league’s oldest contributors who hardly feature in the future tours program: France.
Les Chanticleers hosted tours by England, Wales and Australia in the 1930s and created the first World Cup tournament in 1954. World Cup finalists on two occasions, France was a permanent fixture on the Kangaroo Tour program until 1994, while their triumphant Test series wins in Australia in 1951 and ’55 hold a cherished place in international rugby league folklore.
But the nation has languished in the international wilderness over the last two decades after rebuilding their domestic game.
The Catalan Dragons’ entry into Super League in 2006 boosted interest and participation in southern France. They’ve also been a credible performer in the competition, finishing sixth last year.
France participated in the 2009 Four Nations (losing each game), but performed well in the 2013 World Cup.
France had regular Tests against England in 2015 and ’16, but the English treated the game like a warm-up rather than a full-blown Test. Last year, England players arrived the day of the game instead of spending time promoting international rugby league.
Rugby League International Federation chairman Nigel Wood confirmed his organisation is committed to improving all nations. However, there weren’t any specifics just yet on how they would achieve this.
“To support the development of Tier Two nations, the RLIF will work with the Continental Federations to strengthen existing regional competitions in Europe, Asia Pacific, the Americas and Middle-East/Africa,” Wood said.
The press release goes on to say:
“The four-year cycle, beginning in 2018, will include a New Zealand tour to Europe, followed by a Lions Tour to the Southern Hemisphere in 2019, and a Kangaroos Tour to Europe in 2020. The Kangaroos Tour will feature at least three Test matches against England and one Test against France.”
Kangaroo tour of Europe back for 2020 while Lions to tour Australia in 2019 – Wide World of Sports https://t.co/W7Y5Im5Sxg
— EUROPE reports (@EUROPEreports) May 10, 2017
Veteran halfback Thomas Bosc, who has played 27 Tests for France and more than 200 games for Les Catalans, was optimistic at the prospect of an improved French team.
“Players need to show rugby league is a good sport in France,” he told League Passport.
“In the next few years, we can raise our performance to a better level.”
Bosc felt one of the team’s better performances was the 2013 quarter-final against England.
“Before the game, everyone said we would lose by a big margin (they lost 34-6, courtesy of an English try right at the end). We played well and gave an 80-minute performance.
“For French rugby league, we need to learn to bring through young French players. It is easier with two teams (Catalans and Toulouse). It is good for the future.”
A strong France, along with the development of the Pacific Islands, should be a priority, not just the ‘Big Three’ of England, Australia and New Zealand.
France needs to win the European Championships more often to show their improvement, but one Test a year against a major nation isn’t going to advance their Test ranking.
Let’s hope France doesn’t get left behind in the mad rush to profit from revamped Kiwi, Kangaroo or Lions tours.